MLB Rumors

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Royals looking at Joe Blanton as a reliever
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com

The Royals will use Joe Blanton as a reliever, according to MLB.com.

Blanton has not pitched in the majors since 2013. While he started 20 games that season, the Royals view him strictly as a reliever. "The only way he is really going to help us is in the bullpen," manager Ned Yost said. "We're not going to stretch him out [to be a starter]."

Blanton posted a 6.04 ERA over 132 2/3 innings in 2013. He'll compete for a job in the Royals bullpen this spring. 

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Giants' Santiago Casilla avoids injury during BP session
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com

Giants reliever Santiago Casilla avoided a major injury on Thursday after he was hit by a comebacker during a batting practice session, according to MLB.com.

Casilla took a line drive off the shin during the session. He laid on the ground for about a minute, but was able to walk off the field under his own power. X-rays came back negative, so Casilla is not dealing with a fracture. He may miss a day or two due to the injury, but that's it. Casilla said he wanted to simulate a real game, which is why he decided not to pitch behind a screen.

The 34-year-old posted a 1.70 ERA over 58 1/3 innings last year. He's expected to open the season as the team's closer. 

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Rockies' Jon Gray happy to have his velocity back
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com

Rockies pitcher Jon Gray is glad to have his velocity back this spring, according to MLB.com.

Gray dealt with shoulder fatigue last season, which limited his ability to get his fastball up into the triple-digits. That hasn't been a problem during camp. "This is the first time I felt this strong since early [Class A Advanced] Modesto," Gray said. 

Teammate Corey Dickerson came away impressed. "He was one of the best pitchers today because he was painting or barely missing -- one or two inches out of the zone -- and looked smooth, not nervous, but confident," Dickerson said.

Gray believes the added velocity should help his changeup this season. "I developed a really good changeup. It was my strikeout pitch of the year. I'll take that into this year with my fastball. It's going to be awesome."

Gray is expected to compete for a spot in the team's rotation this spring. Though he's likely to start in the minors, he should reach the majors at some point this year.

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Nationals' Yunel Escobar gets strong reviews at second
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com

Nationals second baseman Yunel Escobar received strong reviews after taking fielding practice at the position on Thursday, according to MLB.com.

Escobar met with team officials recently to discuss the transition. While he was initially hesitant to move off shortstop, Escobar said he's now committed to being the best second baseman in the league. Escobar spent the past month preparing at second base, but asked that the Nationals be patient as he gets used to his new spot.

Nationals defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier doesn't think it will take long for Escobar to master the new position. "His athleticism, his agility...his footwork is excellent," Weidemaier said. "I don't think it's going to be a big transition for him."

Escobar, 32, hit .258/.324/.340 over 476 at-bats last year.

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Cardinals' John Gast finally feels 100 percent
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com

Cardinals pitcher John Gast finally feels 100 percent recovered after shoulder surgery, according to MLB.com.

Gast had the surgery back in 2013, but said he didn't feel like he was all the way back when he returned to pitch last season. "All around, I felt off," Gast said. "The whole year was tough with every pitch, really."

This spring, though, things seem to be much better. Gast believes his velocity is back to normal, and said his pitches have "more life than last year." Gast will likely open the season in the minors, but general manager John Mozeliak believes he can pitch in the big leagues. 

"I think he's capable of pitching in the big leagues," Mozeliak said. "Now it's going out and showing that he has the durability to compete every fifth day."

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Franklin Gutierrez 'doing fine' in bid to make Mariners
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com

Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez said Thursday that he's "doing fine" after missing the 2014 season while dealing with an inflammatory nerve condition called ankylosing spondylitis, MLB.com reports.

"I'm doing fine," Gutierrez said. "After missing a year, I'm very grateful to be back here. I've been here for a long time now. I just want to give it a shot one more time to see if I can do it."

Gutierrez agreed to a minor-league deal with the Mariners and will see where he's at after being invited to spring training. His illness "has a treatment, but not a cure," and he expects to be dealing with it for the remainder of his life.

"We hope that he's healthy and can make it through the camp feeling good about himself and get back to playing baseball," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "There are no big expectations. Do we expect him to be the guy he was two or three years ago? I doubt it. He's been off a long time. He needs to ease himself back into things and it's going to take time. No. 1, we have to make sure he's healthy."

Gutierrez was limited to 81 games in 2012 and 2013 combined due to a virety of injuries, many of which were later attributed to his illness.

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Angels' Matt Joyce to see ample work against lefties this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com

Angels outfielder Matt Joyce will see plenty of opportunities against left-handed pitching during spring training as well as extra work in the cage and against the breaking-ball machine as the team primes him for a potential everyday role, MLB.com reports.

"I don't want him looking over his shoulder every time a lefty comes in, thinking he's going to get pinch-hit for," hitting coach Don Baylor said. "I'm trying to get him out of that mentality. He's on a new ballclub now."

Just 323 of Joyce's 2,182 career at-bats have come against left-handers, against whom he has hit .189/.258/.316 with nine home runs and 50 RBI.

"This is something that I've wanted and asked for for a while," Joyce said. "I really don't feel there's a lot of pressure on me. I've done it in the minor leagues. I feel it's something I'm going to have to put some time and extra effort into, but, without a doubt, I know I can do it."

Joyce will have the opportunity to serve as the team's everyday left fielder with Josh Hamilton recovering from injury and dealing with a potential disciplinary issue.

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Indians' Francona disagrees with metrics on Brantley's defense
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com

Indians outfielder Michael Brantley was ranked 13th in FanGraphs' overall defensive rating out of 15 players who logged at least 800 innings in left field in 2014, a ranking manager Terry Francona "can't understand," Cleveland.com reports.

"For the life of me, I can't understand it," Francona said. "I really don't. That's something that perplexes me to no end. He is one of the better left fielders in the game. I don't get it. I don't know if I ever will."

Brantley was one of three finalists for the American League Golden Glove Award last year for his position despite finishing the season with a minus-6.3 UZR/150. His minus-10.4 overall defensive rating marked his second season with a mark worse than minus-10 in the category.

"I think the [advanced] stats are deceiving," Francona said. "We see him every time. We see Brantley for 162 games and he does it over and over and over and over and over. He's so consistent and his arm is such a factor. I don't know where they came up with that. I don't care."

Brantley committed just one error in 2014 while racking up a career-high 12 outfield assists. He also delivered his finest season at the plate, hitting .327/.385/.506 with 20 home runs, 97 RBI and 23 stolen bases in 611 at-bats.

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Braves' Markakis apologizes for comments about the Orioles
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com

Braves outfielder Nick Markakis apologized for calling out the Orioles organization, according to MASN.

Markakis was recently quoted saying the Orioles organization couldn't be trusted after he felt they were disingenuous about why contract negotiations broke down. "Don't believe a word they say," Markakis said. "It was all because of my neck. They can say what they want to make them look good."

He backpedaled from those comments on Thursday. "What I said wasn't directed at any way to the Orioles organization or ownership. It's just one of those things where I kind of said sarcastically, 'B.S., I wouldn't believe everything you hear. Don't believe them.'" he said. "I just want to put it behind me and I apologize for what I did, but there's a reason why it came out of my mouth." 

The 31-year-old hit .276/.342/.386 over 642 at-bats last year.

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Blue Jays agree to a deal with Johan Santana
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com

The Blue Jays have agreed to sign pitcher Johan Santana, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Santana, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012 due to various arm injuries, is attempting to make a come back this season. He pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League, but was shut down after having some shoulder discomfort. Santana resumed throwing in late February. 

The 34-year-old posted a 4.85 ERA in 117 innings back in 2012. 

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